• The Magnificent Seven (2016)

    The Magnificent Seven is the remake of a remake that neither has the epic intensity of the original ''Seven Samurai'' movie by Kurosawa Akira from 1954 nor the outstanding acting skills portrayed in John Sturges' ''The Magnificent Seven'' from 1960. Still, this new version offers a fast-paced ride involving great actors, gripping action scenes and fitting settings that bring back the spirit of a cool genre that has gone out of vogue over the past four decades to a new generation.

    The different characters are introduced in short but fitting ways. They are unique and likable enough to make the audience care about them. Veteran Denzel Washington convinces as cool and clever law enforcer with a mysterious past and plays a strong lead character in his very first western. Chris Pratt convinces as cunning and humorous gambler underlining his status as one of the best young American actors. Vincent d'Onofrio stands out as cranky and quirky trapper and proves once again that he is one of the best choices to play odd and unusual characters. Ethan Hawke does a respectable job as haunted sharpshooter but it would have been interesting to get some more background information about his versatile character. The other actors and actresses are solid but have the problem to portray somewhat stereotypical characters such as the silent Asian killer, the proud Mexican assassin, the courageous Indian practising strange rituals or the brave young widow determined to seek justice and revenge. While the diversity of the cast might attract a larger audience, it feels somewhat forced and definitely unrealistic from a historic point of view.

    The first hour is dedicated to the introduction of the seven gunslingers, the mistreated villagers and the pitiless villains in an entertaining way. The second hour is almost entirely based upon the showdown between the gunslingers and the villagers on one side and the villain's private army trying to reconquer the village on the other side. The battle scenes are quite diversified and intense involving numerous gun fights, a very destructive Gatling gun, archery shots, explosions with dynamite, knife throwing, numerous traps and some hand-to-hand combat. Despite its length, the final battle never gets redundant. Some of the fights seem to be unrealistically exaggerated in the beginning but end up being more grounded ad realistic towards the end. Despite its generous rating, there is a lot of violence in these scenes and both sides of the belligerents have a heavy price to pay. It only fits the traditional western genre that both heroes and villains aren't invincible and politically correct but actually swearing, smoking, killing, drinking and dying in this movie. Those who were afraid to get a politically correct contemporary plastic product might be relieved that this film actually respects the original movie and its first remake as well as the style of several western classics from the sixties. 

    In the end, there isn't anything wrong with this entertaining movie. Both traditional western aficionados and younger generations should enjoy this fast-paced western with its authentic settings, intriguing characters and furious action scenes. While this revamped version is missing Kurosawa's epic storytelling or the stunning performances by legendary actors such as Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson in the first remake, this new interpretation comes surprisingly close to the quality of these two movies and is worth to be watched at your local movie theatre.

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  • The Hateful Eight (2015)

    ''The Hateful Eight'' is a typical Quentin Tarantino movie. It has a slow build-up that carefully introduces the eight different characters. The dialogues are very elaborated and mix crude vocabulary with more intellectual expressions to create an emotional balance. The tension of the movie is based on the cold landscapes, the long dialogues, the restricted setting, the excellent gloomy soundtrack and an overall simple yet efficient story with a little twist. It takes nearly two hours before the first main character dies and the killing scenes are then very graphic, purposely exaggerated and chillingly refreshing in contrast to the lengthy conversations. Anyone who knows Quentin Tarantino gets exactly what one can expect from him.

    This factor has its advantages and disadvantages. The dialogues are among the very best in modern Hollywood cinema. The camera techniques are epic, the settings add to the atmosphere of the film and the score composed by Ennio Morricone is great. The eight characters are unique and very different from each other. They are incarnated by eight actors who really shine in this movie. All of them do an outstanding job but I would like to point the acting of the only female lead character played by Jennifer Jason Leigh who perfectly portrays a sneaky, sadistic and opportunistic criminal that constantly tries to manipulate people around her. The relations between the different characters are what makes this movie even more outstanding. Unlikely rivalries and alliances come and go during the movie and none of the characters is predictable.

    On the negative side, the movie is comparable to several previous movies by Quentin Tarantino. In my opinion, the film has too many similarities with his last western ''Django Unchained'', including the setting, discussions about slavery and the Civil War background. Another negative element is the length of the movie. While the film builds up a lot of atmosphere, some momentum gets lost in the middle of the film before the first character dies. The movie could have been shortened by at least twenty to thirty minutes to assure a more fluid experience. Another element that bothered me a little bit was the perspective change in the movie. Right before the climax, the film introduces an entire chapter set in the early hours of the same day that reveals all the twists in about twenty minutes which decreases the impact of the following climax and interrupts the flow of the movie in an odd way. This background story could have been told differently, quicker and especially at a different moment in the movie. 

    In the end, ''The Hateful Eight'' might not be Quentin Tarantino's best movie so far but it's a good or slightly above average film by him. The dialogues of the script are worthy of an Academy Award, the camera, light and sound techniques have both a retro style and are up to modern standards and the actors and actresses deliver some of their very best career performances. If you like westerns, the stunning landscapes and the story are two more reasons for you to adore this movie. If you are looking for a more graphic, short-paced and violent movie, ''The Hateful Eight'' might bore you since the film is unusually long and at points hard to sit through, focuses almost only on dialogues and character developments and only gets physically intense in the last sixth of the movie. Personally, this was one of last year's greatest movies in my opinion but you will only admire this movie if you are familiar with other works of Quentin Tarantino, like western stories and settings and adore elaborated dialogues. 

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  • Gallowwalkers (2012)

    "Gallowwalkers" does pretty much everything wrong that anyone could possibly expect from a movie.

    The plot is not just really ordinary but got cut into many pieces and separated into confusing flashbacks which make this film quite hard to follow and almost unwatchable. This flick has a horrible flow and way too many lengths. The little twists in the story are not surprising but really random.

    The acting in this movie is extremely shallow and wooden. It's not necessarily a question of talent but it has to do with passion. To me, the actors don't seem to be convinced of their own roles and you can feel their bored, mechanical and unprofessional attitude throughout the entire flick.

    The negative elements don't stop there. The locations are really unspectacular. The duel at the railway is in the middle of nowhere and there wasn't even enough budget for a train. The weird prisons are randomly situated somewhere in the desert. There wasn't even enough Budget for any proper building since there are only cheap cages and old tents. Even the showdown doesn't take place on an elevated mountain but on a most ordinary hill. The special effects including lighting techniques, sound effects and visual elements can be described as an emotionless routine job at best and as completely forgettable if you want to be honest. Even the second-hand shop costumes and the cheap make-up are so bad that an unexperienced high school theater group would have done a more convincing job without any budget.

    Now, if this kind of movie lacks intriguing effects, a gripping plot and solid acting, it should at least come around with some addicting action or gore scenes as many films of this kind do. Even at this level, the movie is a miserable failure. The shootings feel predictable, stretched and unspectacular and there is only one kind of gore scene that is constantly repeated. That's why this movie lacks both action and tension. It feels incredibly long and hard to sit through, even for fans of bad b movies, cheap horror movies and modern westerns.

    Another problem is that this movie takes itself too serious and cannot even be considered a missed attempt at a genre parody or a film that simply wants to be absurd and please to some drunkards. It's just a bad movie from any point of view.

    There is only one minor reason why this poor excuse for a flick isn't the worst thing I may have watched. The movie has a small amount of a cool, dry and sinister atmosphere since we have to deal with the classic western stereotype of a silent and tough gunman who wants to take revenge for something obscure that happened in the past. Even though Wesley Snipes' acting is horrible, he still has the fitting look for this kind of cliché.

    In the end, there is no reason whatsoever to purchase or watch this movie. The trailer looks much better than what you get for real. Don't waste your precious time on this disaster and avoid this at all costs.

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  • Das finstere Tal / The Dark Valley (2014)

    "The Dark Valley" is a truly unique film. It mixes the usually stereotypical Heimatfilm genre with classic Italian American western parts and adds a gloomy film noir atmosphere to it. This genre is extremely rare and precious in German-speaking regions where one gets mostly exposed to the stereotypical Heimatfilm and extremely redundant crime fiction genres. I wish there were more movies like this from these countries.

    This collaboration between German, Austrian and Italian artists takes place in a dark and isolated valley in the Alps where a sinister family has established a reign of terror and controls everybody and everything. One day, a silent cowboy from Texas that seems to hide a dark secret comes to town just before the winter arrives and asks to stay there. As soon as the snow is falling the valley becomes a natural prison and one of the members of the sinister family gets brutally killed in the fog while cutting down a tree. A few days later, another member of the family gets murdered during a hunting trip in the woods. Soon, the surviving family members suspect the charismatic cowboy to be connected to these horrible crimes and the young man has to go into hiding.

    While the story itself might not be original and the pace of the movie a little bit slow at times, the rest of the film is absolutely outstanding. The acting is charismatic and realistic. The Tyrolean dialect adds a lot to the authenticity of this great film. This accent is a little bit tough to understand at times for somebody from North-Western Germany like me but it adds a lot of charm to the film. The locations are just as stunning. The churches, farms and stores are broken, dark and dirty and the mountains, rivers and woods are misty, somber and wild. The dark lighting techniques and the menacing yet decent soundtrack only add to the atmosphere. The numerous fight scenes and shootings are brutal, graphic and raw but never feel exaggerated. The film has almost no special effects and feels almost like a documentary at times. There aren't many dialogues in this film but like many great films, it doesn't need overlong conversations since the overall atmosphere, body language and the landscapes are speaking for themselves.

    This haunting movie is highly recommendable for anyone who likes westerns, those interested in German, Austrian and Italian culture and fans of profound and sinister movies. You won't forget this outstanding experiment anytime soon and I'm really hungry for more.

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  • Django Unchained (2012)

     

    Here it comes, Quentin Tarantino's new blockbuster and Italo Western homage "Django Unchained". Personally, I happen to find Tarantino's movies quite a mixed bag as he has done anything from stupid disaster pieces such as "Kill Bill Vol. 1" up to very thought out stuff like "Inglorious Basterds". His new movie is among the better ones he has released but still not the best.

    What I immediately liked about the movie is the camera work with many wide angles, natural Stillleben and shots on the eyes of the actors to capture their emotions. If you like directors like Sergio Leone, you will know what I'm talking about and if you happen to like him, you will also adore this movie. The opening scene presenting the cast already gets you into an old school western atmosphere. The amazing soundtrack is another strong point all along this movie. After some very explicit scenes, Tarantinos puts a vivid and catchy track that grabs your attention and makes it easier to digest what you've just seen. Tarantino certainly has a good feeling for impressive settings and gripping atmospheres.

    He puts a lot of details in his movie once again but only good connoisseurs may detect all of them. In one scene, the new Django Jamie Foxx sits next to a bar and an old guy who spoke Italian asks him his name and how it's spelled. Well, this old guy is Franco Nero who portrayed Django for the very first time and that's what makes this scene so funny as he knows off course how this name is spelled. If you recognize Franco Nero, you will laugh out loud during that scene, anybody who doesn't know him may just find that scene overlong and strange. A similar event happens towards the end when Tarantino appears himself as an actor which is another funny moment.

    In general, this movie has a lot of humour once again that contrasts the long dialogues as well as the detailed killing scenes. This aspect works very well thanks to the acting of Christoph Waltz who is just amazing and incredibly diversified. He's not as great as in "Inglorious Basterds" but comes very close and would deserve one more Academy Award for his acting in my opinion. That being said, the actors simply do an incredible job in this film. Jamie Foxx is a quite diversified character and one really cares about his fate until the end of the movie which is very important. Samuel L. Jackson plays a great villain and does it in a very credible way. Leonardo DiCaprio happens to play in more and more dark and mature films and convinces once again as unpredictable maniac.

    This being said, everything about this movie seems to be perfect but one very important thing is missing: the story. The movie has no twists or surprises and also includes many lengths after a strong beginning and just before an explosive ending. These lengths include the scenes on the way to Candie Land or several dialogues inside the mansion. These scenes are only saved by the strong acting by Waltz, Jackson and Co. but would ruin a movie if they were done by average actors. This movie would have been much more fluid if it was cut down to two hours of running time. The original Italo Westerns like "Once Upon A Time In The West" had better story lines and a few mysterious characters that would only reveal their true intentions in the very end that are missing in this modern adaption.

    Nevertheless, apart of the story line and the lengths, this movie is a definite must see and lovely done homage to the era of Italo Westerns. Any fan of Tarantino should be satisfied with this flick even if it's not his best and even if there were a couple of better movies than this one in 2012.

     

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